Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Luke 24:13-35 The Walk to Emmaus
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In seven miles, I can buy donuts, stop at the grocery store, stop at the vet, a brew pub, an antiques mall, a country club, buy a tractor, and a lobster roll. I can stop at two pharmacies, two gas stations, two post offices, and two flower nurseries. In about seven miles, I can get to the Monmouth transfer station. In about seven miles, I can hike at Mt. Pisgah. In just over and just under seven miles, depending on my route, I can pick berries at one farm in the spring or apples at an orchard in the fall. I can do a lot in seven miles. The two friends in this story can, too. In seven miles, they can see Jesus.
Imagine yourself on the road to Emmaus. We’ll call it the road to Mt. Pisgah if that helps you get the distance in mind. You and your dear friend have had one of the worst weeks of your life and you are very sad. And, you’ve decided that you need to get out of the city and go to the small town... or, in our case, Mt. Pisgah. And, you walk and talk about what has happened and you meet someone who does not know.... who seems to be coming from the same place you have but has no idea what has gone on. When he asks again, you try to figure out how to tell the story. You’ve got about seven miles to get it right.
If you didn’t know about the resurrection yet, and a stranger asked you about Jesus, what might you tell them? You all should have gotten a slip of paper when you came in. Write down what you might say and put your response in the offering plate. If you’re online, you can put yours in the chat as you think of it. I’ll share the responses later. Here's what the two disciples told the stranger who was walking with them. They said that Jesus was: "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." Despite his good deeds and powerful words, community leaders grew threatened by him. Rome killed him like a criminal, torturing him on a cross. In one of the saddest lines in the whole Gospel, these two disciples say that "we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." They thought that their hope was in vain. They didn't understand how redemption could come if he was dead.
They tell the stranger that it has been three days since their hope died alongside Jesus. That very morning, some of the women who also followed Jesus showed up telling a rubbish story about how they saw angels at his tomb who told them he was alive. That’s right. This story took place on the day of the resurrection but these two hadn’t seen Jesus... yet. They tell the stranger that one friend, Peter, went to the tomb to see what the women were talking about. He sure as heck didn't see any angels. He didn’t see Jesus either... not his body or his spirit. Only his burial clothes.
How far into this seven miles do you think the story has taken them? Ted’s Trackside Grill? Charlie’s Chevrolet? Somewhere in the wilds of Monmouth? Maybe just the Circle K? Regardless of how long it took, they were likely surprised when the stranger responded to their sad and harrowing tale with something that sounded an awful lot like a rebuke. Did you hear the part where the stranger called them foolish and slow of heart? He went on to say that they've misunderstood everything about the law. He said that there was more divine, redemptive potential in this whole week and they had missed it. He then started teaching them.
I think it's really interesting that they don't realize that this stranger is Jesus when he begins to teach them. Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus has been teaching them. From his first public mission statement back in chapter 4 through the Sermon on the Plain in chapter 6... through all the healings and exorcisms... through the prayers and parables, and long-lasting dinners, all the way up to the day of his arrest, Jesus had been teaching them. If you had asked me where I would have guessed that these two would have recognized Jesus, I would have said right here, in this moment when he began teaching. How could they not see the one they so loved traveling alongside them when they heard the words of wisdom come out of his mouth?
Where are we now? Somewhere near that farm close to Mt. Pisgah trailhead? The stranger seemed to be ready to keep walking as the disciples reached their destination. Notice that he still hasn’t told them who he is. But, they aren’t ready to be done with his company. I once read a translation that said that they “twisted his arm to get him to stay.” They explained that it was late, with the subtext that it might be dangerous to travel solo at night. They invited the stranger to stay with them, where it was safe. That sure seems like something Jesus would have done.
I have often wondered if their offer of hospitality is what finally lets them see the stranger for who he really is. It’s not the muscle memory of the walk or the familiarity of the teaching, but the welcome and care that began to prepare their hearts for a revelation.
If we were walking about seven miles with them, we’d be near the fire tower now, right? Maybe setting out a blanket and getting the food ready that we brought to share.
The two disciples sat down with the stranger and began a simple meal. It might be familiar to you. There was bread, and the stranger blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. And, immediately it became clear. Familiar movements... a hand raised, bread torn, food shared. They had been fed like this before. The moment they knew who he was... that this was their beloved Jesus, he was gone, leaving them with crumbs in their beards and hope burning in their hearts.
Has your heart burned in recognition of Christ lately? Have you stumbled into Jesus in the midst of following his guidance, as these two disciples once did? Has an act of hospitality turned into an encounter with the divine? What’d you do about it?
Jesus’ friends ran seven miles back to Jerusalem when they realized who they had been walking and eating with. I have never run seven miles in one stretch in my entire life. I might be enticed to do so, even with this achy ankle, if I met Jesus in the midst of a hopeless time. In the terrifying darkness, on the wilderness road, they ran back to make sure the rest of Jesus' followers would know the truth. They confirmed what the women preachers had already told the rest of the disciples. They said that not even death could stop Jesus for long. They had seen him once again at the table. Of course, they met him at the table. Jesus is usually found at the table, tending to the physical and spiritual needs of friends, strangers, and enemies alike.
The disciples had seven miles and one meal to figure out who Jesus was. And, they had seven more miles to figure out how to tell their friends what they had seen. Jesus will show up on our journey, too, and we’ll likely feel him the clearest when we are doing as he taught... caring for the stranger. Feeding the hungry. Offering shelter to those in need of safety. May we recognize the Risen Christ in these moments. And, may you share with others what you have seen.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Pulpit Fiction podcast: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/easter3a
Sarah Henrich: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=933
Robert Hoch: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3234
Marilyn Salman: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1671
The Resurrection of Jesus
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
When we lived in Illinois, I learned that Good Friday is when you’re supposed to plant potatoes. It was either one of my colleagues in hospice or one of the farmer families we served who told me. Apparently, the Old Timers said you had to get the potatoes in that day and, especially years ago when the farms were still mostly smaller family farms instead of large industrial operations, this was a rule they’d follow most years. I’d never heard of this practice, though it’s apparently common folk wisdom in lots of places. While preparing this sermon, I found articles about planting potatoes in regions as disparate as Northern California, Detroit, Michigan, and Scotland.
I talked with my friend Kristy, back home in Tennessee, and she was getting ready to put out most of her garden on Good Friday, not just potatoes. While this was a practice she learned from the elders in her family, she wasn’t sure where the practice came from. None of the articles I read were either, though they shared some theories, which ranged in plausibility to me. Kristy offered these thoughts about planting. Humans have been putting a lot of energy and care into how we plant for a very long time. And yet, even with modern technology and all our best practices based on years of experience, we can’t control everything. She said, “It’s a gamble no matter when you plant.” With weather patterns the way they are where we grew up, it was simply a safer bet to wait until Good Friday to try. There will always be risk. But, generations of experience has shown us that this time is right more often than not.
When I lived in Illinois, I put my potatoes in the ground on Good Friday. I didn’t want to waste the wisdom shared with me by the people who had been planting for their whole lives. It seemed to me like a meaningful counterbalance to the deep sadness of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and death. On that day, with those stories on my heart, I wanted my hands to be in the soil. I wanted to be gambling on new life. Because I knew that, in the fullness of time, that which I needed for nourishment could grow, a product of both my effort and, also forces well beyond my control. I couldn’t think of a better way to begin the path to resurrection than by betting that something new could live, and knowing that I must prepare and watch for it.
In our Lenten devotional, the Rev. Sarah Speed shared a poem called “Lost and Found.”
With all of my thinking about gardening, it seemed appropriate to share her words.
Standing in the garden,
Soft dirt under her feet,
Sun still tucked away,
Sleeping under the horizon.
The other disciples left,
but Mary stayed.
tears running down her face.
She said, they have taken my Lord away,
and I don’t know where they put him.
But here’s what Easter taught me:
if you think you’ve lost God,
if it feels like heaven has slipped through the cracks,
if you feel like night will never end,
then know, there is no hide-and-seek with the divine
that doesn’t end in you being found.
God is closer than you think.
You might have noticed, especially if it is your first Easter with us, that the sanctuary looked a little bare when you came in. Those of you who are attending online can’t really see everything, but there were no flowers out or banners up when people arrived today. It wasn’t until we heard alongside Mary, “woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” and realized with her that it was Jesus who was asking her questions and calling out her name. It wasn’t until then that the signs remembering her joy and showing our celebration would be brought out in full.
I don’t ask the deacons and some other volunteers to help make Easter erupt this way just because I like the drama (though, to be fair, I do like the drama). It is because, as Dr. Wil Gafney reminds us in her commentary on this text, the Easter story starts in sorrow, in the dirt, standing next to the stone cover that has been removed to reveal an empty tomb. Mary Magdalene, who had already watched her friend be killed now was afraid that his remains had been taken as well. She was surprised in the most awful way and didn’t know what to do about it.
When we have heard this story a thousand times, like many people in this room have, it is helpful to reintroduce something surprising when we read it again, so that we can remember that this was a shocking and sorrowful morning. It was a morning that Mary Magdalene and the rest of her friends had assumed that their gamble on love... their gamble on Jesus might have been a bad bet. They had put in so much effort right alongside him, had planted so many seeds of love and justice, had allowed the Spirit to grow in their hearts, and yet, forces beyond their control had taken Jesus from them. It was always going to be a gamble to teach and heal alongside him. She was sure that all was lost.
She has gone looking for Jesus to be just the same way that she last saw him. But, these days in dark have changed him, or at least changed her expectation of what she will find when she goes looking. She doesn’t even recognize him at first. He has to say her name, remind her of their relationship, for her to see clearly that the one she has been searching for is there, alive in a brand new way. I know she wants to stay with him. Jesus does, too. But, he gives her a commission, sending her to tell others what she has seen. And, she, like the woman at the well and the man who had been born blind but was healed, goes on to tell what she has seen.
It was a gamble to follow Christ. It still is. Not because Christians are being particularly persecuted at this moment, because we aren’t. The gamble comes from what Danielle Shroyer talks about in her commentary on this text. We may think we know Jesus and see him one way. But, if we really commit to putting our hands in the dirt alongside him, sowing love that we hope to harvest as justice, we might find that he is not where we expect him. I pray that he will find us as he found Mary and show us that there is a kind of new life that we didn’t know was possible. Mary preached so we could hear and follow. May we do the same, passing along her message, “I have seen the Lord,” and plant in our time the next crop of Christ’s love.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Wil Gafney, "Easter Day- Principal Service," Women's Lectionary Year A
Daniell Shroyer's commentary on John 20:1-18 in Seeking: Honest Questions for a Deeper Faith (from Sanctified Art) and her commentary on the First Week of Lent
Sara Speed’s poem, “Lost and Found,” also found in Seeking: Honest Questions for a Deeper Faith from Sanctified Art
This article is an interesting overview of practices around planting on Good Friday: https://www.farmersalmanac.com/good-friday-gardening-folklore-27185
The different articles I found from different regions:
Northern California: https://homeguides.sfgate.com/plant-potatoes-good-friday-55043.html
Matthew 21:1-11 Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, ‘Tell the daughter of Zion, look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
He rode into town with two borrowed donkeys. Who here has ever ridden two donkeys? Me, neither. I haven’t even ridden one donkey, just some small ponies. All four gospels tell the story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem this last time. They all have donkeys. This is the only version that has two. The people cheered him on like he is a king or a general who has just won a big battle.
Do you remember the word they shouted when they saw Jesus? That’s right: Hosanna! Does anybody know what that word means? Save us! It means, “Save us!” Jesus wasn’t the only person that people ever yelled “Hosanna” to. But, people also didn’t yell hosanna at just anybody. They usually just yelled it to people who were wealthy and had some power in the government. Jesus was not wealthy. And, his power didn’t come from Rome, but from God. But the people believed that he could help them, so they shouted and sang and made a path for him to come into the city, covering the ground with their own cloaks and branches cut from trees.
Matthew's version of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem says that the city was in “turmoil.” This can mean a few things. It might mean that lots of people were around, doing lots of wild things, maybe even fighting with each other. It also probably means that the city was shaking from all the noise and crowd movement. What’s the loudest place you’ve ever been? … That’s pretty loud. Matthew tells us that this parade into the city was that loud! Imagine watching a slightly dusty man ride two donkeys into town and be greeted like a king. Maybe you can feel it: Something big and strange is happening right in front of you. Maybe you’d even find yourself shouting along with the crowd. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Matthew doesn’t tell us this, but historians know that Jesus wasn't the only one who marched into the city during this festival. Pontius Pilate would have ridden into town, too, from a different gate, with a different agenda. He would not have had to borrow a donkey. His boss would have given him a chariot paid for by money they took from people in taxes. He and the soldiers he commanded would have tried to look tough and scary, because they wanted to intimidate the people in Jerusalem into good behavior during their religious celebration.
Remember, everyone is in the city because it is the time of a major religious holiday: Passover. Passover was a holiday where the people celebrate God helping their ancestors escape Egypt where the Pharaoh, that is the king, was cruel to them. Pontius Pilate, who worked for a different powerful king, knew that sometimes if you hear stories about freedom, you want freedom, too. He’d get worried that the people would try to fight back against Rome. So, to counteract the stories about freedom, he’d show up with his soldiers to remind people that Rome was powerful and could win any fight that was started.
I’ve also read scholars say that people, the same people who cheered for Jesus voluntarily, would be required to show up to welcome Pilate and to sing his praises. Has anybody ever gone to a party they don’t want to be at and had to pretend to be having fun? That could happen to whole cities. If they looked anything less than excited for Pilate to return to the city, they risked making him mad. If he was mad, he might tell his soldiers to do something dangerous. I don't how many people shouted Hosanna at Pilate. Some probably did, because he was powerful enough and might help him. I bet not many people thought Pilate had come in the name of the Lord.
In Matthew, Jesus' entry into Jerusalem shows us something important. It shows us how deeply people connected with his mission of wholeness and liberation. In the middle of a huge religious celebration, enough people heard he was coming, or saw he was coming and were excited about it that they gathered around him. They made a whole parade happen out of nowhere. And, they moved the earth with all their shouts and excitement. Their excitement probably also made some powerful people nervous. They would have seen a crowd gather to celebrate and ask for help from this teacher. They would have seen the crowd treat him like someone who was powerful enough to save them. Powerful people don’t always like it when someone who isn’t them is also seen as powerful. Sometimes powerful people do dangerous things when they think someone will take power from them.
Carolyn Brown once wrote something about this scripture and said that the Palm Sunday Parade shows us how Jesus will use his power differently than Pilate or even Caesar would. While they use their power to scare people and make themselves rich, Jesus won’t worry about being rich. I know we didn’t read about it today, but in the parts of Matthew right after this story, Jesus will use his power to heal sick people. He will teach people, too. But, he won’t hurt anyone. That’s important to remember. Jesus’ power was never used to hurt people, just to ask people to take better care of each other.
What are some things that we can learn from this story? Yes. Those are all good things. I’d like to add a few things, too. One might be, even when things are hard, take time to run towards the things that are good and celebrate them. That is what the people were doing when they made this parade to welcome Jesus. They saw an opportunity to be near to something Holy and they took it. I also think we can learn that what matters most is our welcome, not that we have fancy things to welcome people. The people who welcomed Jesus only had the simple things they had on hand and branches cut from trees, and their voices. They used what they had to make way for Jesus and to celebrate so loudly that the city shook. I hope that when you feel close to Jesus’ spirit, you will celebrate it, too. In your celebration, I hope that you will feel like Jesus can save you, too.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Stanley Saunders: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2404
I Love To Tell The Story podcast: https://www.workingpreacher.org/narrative_podcast.aspx?podcast_id=603
Pulpit Fiction podcast: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/palmsundaya
Carolyn Brown: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/02/year-passionpalm-sunday-april-13-2014.html
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.